Kennedy Felice said that being around so many other people dedicated to serving others restored her faith in society.
But it’s safe to say that anyone who has talked to Felice, recently named runner-up in the Kansas Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year competition, would say the same good things about her.
Felice, a 17-year old at Manhattan High and Manhattan Boys and Girls Club volunteer, finished the highest at the state level for a Little Apple representative.
“She’s amazing,” said Kelly Carmody, director of operations for the Manhattan Boys and Girls Club. “She’s a great leader and the most involved kid I’ve ever known, and also so grounded.”
Felice took her Youth of the Year acknowledgment in stride.
“It was incredible and very humbling to see so many other people who help others,” she said.
Felice started off as a Boys and Girls Club member before she became a volunteer.
Her mother, Lori, used to be in the Air Force, and the family lived in Colorado before coming to Kansas. The club gave Kennedy a place to go and that involvement continued when they came to Manhattan.
She also helps with Special Olympics events and acts as a coach.
Just after being recognized by the Boys and Girls Club in Topeka, she went on a quick spring break vacation to Texas – but just hours after returning to Manhattan, she was off to Hays to help with a Special Olympics event.
In addition to volunteering, Felice is also heavily involved at MHS, where she’s on the varsity cheerleading squad.
“It’s hard sometimes,” she said about her busy schedule. “Like anyone, I get stressed out and get tired, but so much of what I’m involved in is helping other people.
“To see their reactions to just the little things, like showing up to Special Olympics practices and seeing how excited they get and how much it means to them, is enough motivation for me to step outside myself and make sacrifices.”
Lori Felice also works with the Boys and Girls Club, and said none of this has been new.
“She’s always been self-motivated to do things and loves being involved,” Lori said of daughter. “She loves trying everything and we’ve always been so proud of her.
“Sometimes I look at her and think, ‘Wow… I’m an adult and I don’t do as much as she does.’ “
Kennedy, who is biracial, has also grown up through some adversity.
Her biological father is black. Her mother is white, as are her two younger sisters and stepfather, who has been her father figure since she was 3.
“It was hard for her because people would see us and see her, and ask her if she’s sure if we’re her parents,” Lori said.
“When she was younger, it would make her nervous that she’d have to explain it — but now she’s older and has more confidence in herself.
She knows she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for who she is.”
Some of the barbs she grew up hearing did sting, though.
“She’s been told before that she acts ‘too white,’ ” Lori said. “Or that she needs to hang around more people of ‘her kind.’
“So, there’s been times it’s been hard, but when that would happen I’d just tell her you can’t change who you are, and to be the best person you can be.
“If they can’t see that, they don’t need to be in your life.”
Kennedy said her family was her rock during those tough times.
“My family has never let that be something to hinder me,” she said. “I knew I could do all these amazing things and that being biracial was not something that was going to hinder me.
“But people assume they know who you are, and that was something I had to overcome.
“My sisters have never once questioned why my skin is a different shade than theirs. So it was never a question to me.”
Thankfully for society, seeing the ugly side of it didn’t make Kennedy bitter.
“I felt like being bitter about it would play into what they already assumed,” she said. “I never wanted to be who other people thought I was.
“I wanted to prove I had more to offer. Because of that, I’ve continued to show people who I am and what is important to me.”